As Shutdown Looms, Push To Link Planned Parenthood With Spending Fight Gains Steam In House

The movement may make it harder for House Speaker John Boehner to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government.
Chris Maddaloni via Getty Images

WASHINGTON -- An effort to block any funding measure that contains money for Planned Parenthood is gaining steam among the House conservative caucus.

On Thursday, the House Freedom Caucus, which includes some 40 Republican members, announced a unified position on the looming spending fight as the Sept. 30 government funding deadline nears.

鈥淕iven the appalling revelations surrounding Planned Parenthood, we cannot in good moral conscience vote to send taxpayer money to this organization while still fulfilling our duty to represent our constituents,鈥 the members said in a statement. 鈥淲e must therefore oppose any spending measure that contains funding for Planned Parenthood.鈥

The House has launched three investigations into Planned Parenthood after anti-abortion activists last month released heavily edited undercover videos that accused the provider of selling fetal tissue after abortions. The conservative wing of House Republicans says more investigations are necessary, and wants party leadership to act.

The offensive complicates House Speaker John Boehner鈥檚 (R-Ohio) job of passing a continuing resolution to fund the government by month's end. On Thursday, Boehner wouldn鈥檛 explicitly rule out a government shutdown -- as has his counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) -- but insisted it wasn鈥檛 the aim of the House.

鈥淭he goal here is not to shut down the government,鈥 Boehner told reporters. 鈥淭he goal is to stop these horrific practices of organizations selling baby parts.鈥

Boehner noted that 鈥渘o decision has been made鈥 on the details of a continuing resolution among Republicans.

A GOP aide, who later was asked if Boehner would be open to attaching a measure defunding Planned Parenthood to a continuing resolution, said the speaker has 鈥渘ot ruled anything out.鈥

鈥淗e has been clear that he does not want to take any action that will damage the pro-life cause,鈥 the aide added.

During a conference meeting this week, a number of Republican members said they鈥檇 prefer to target the family planning provider by moving legislation separate from the continuing resolution to fund the government, according to a source in the room.

Those same members argued a shutdown would 鈥渉urt the pro-life cause.鈥

Boehner told his members that even if the House were able to defund Planned Parenthood tomorrow, 鈥渋t wouldn鈥檛 stop their grotesque behavior ... and he noted that a shutdown won鈥檛 stop Planned Parenthood from receiving its funding,鈥 according to the source.

But the rising anger within Boehner鈥檚 conservative caucus was felt during a sit-down with reporters on Wednesday. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said he didn鈥檛 like what he heard from leadership during their weekly conference meeting. Mulvaney disagreed with leadership's advice that a clean bill to defund Planned Parenthood -- one not tied to the spending fight -- would probably be the best option.

Planned Parenthood currently receives roughly $500 million in government funding annually, which it uses to subsidize services like birth control, cancer screenings and more for low-income patients. Federal law prohibits the use of taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions.

Mulvaney said another standalone bill to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funds means Republicans are 鈥渟etting up for surrender.鈥

鈥淟eadership is going to have to choose: Do they want it to be a talking point, or do they want to actually do something about it? I think we will find out in the next 10 days,鈥 he said.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) added that Republicans can鈥檛 鈥渢elegraph鈥 to the other side that they are 鈥渦nwilling to have that battle,鈥 because if they do, they鈥檝e 鈥渁lready capitulated.鈥

Labrador and other members in the meeting admitted they didn't know if what Planned Parenthood did was illegal.

"What they did is immoral and I am not willing to give my money to fund the immorality of what is happening in Planned Parenthood," Labrador said.

Planned Parenthood defended its practices, arguing it donates the fetal tissue, which in fact is legal under current law.

Members of the Freedom Caucus dismissed questions about whether they were worried they might be blamed for a shutdown by pushing the Planned Parenthood fight forward.

鈥淭he dollar amount is going to be exactly the same. Instead of going to an organization caught on video engaging in what looks like illegal activity, it will go to other organizations that provide the same services that weren鈥檛 involved in criminal activity or what looks like criminal activity,鈥 said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the Freedom Caucus. 鈥淲hy would you veto that? That is common sense. And yet you all are all saying Republicans are crazy.鈥

It鈥檚 widely known, however, that Democrats would vote against any funding measure that strips the family planning provider of its federal money, and McConnell admitted over the summer recess that the upper chamber didn鈥檛 have the votes to defund the organization.

While the conservative members were agitated with Democrats over the issue, they became more heated when discussing McConnell.

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) countered that the Senate would have the votes to overcome a filibuster if McConnell changed the rules and invoked the nuclear option.

Piling on, Mulvaney charged that McConnell needs to 鈥渇igure out鈥 that there are 鈥渕ore important things than 40-year-old Senate rules.鈥

McConnell vowed to return the Senate to regular order when taking over as majority leader, and to allow an open amendment process, which draws out debate and makes it harder for the controlling party to funnel through legislation they favor.

鈥淯ntil Mitch wakes up and realizes that he鈥檚 no different than [Senate Minority Leader] Harry Reid right now, it鈥檚 going to be a real rugged couple of months,鈥 Mulvaney said.

While McConnell was the main target of the Freedom Caucus members during the Wednesday meeting with press, Boehner didn鈥檛 escape unscathed. Many of the members in attendance threatened to keep a watchful eye on the coming weeks, saying the speaker鈥檚 decisions on how to handle the Iran deal, the spending fight and Planned Parenthood would be key in whether conservatives would mount another coup to oust him.

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